April 2019, Parshat Tazria

Dear Friends,

This week has been an exciting one for me as I completed my final day of placement as part of my Masters of Social Work. Over the past 70 days I have been interning at MS Society in Blackburn where I have been honing my social work skills. As part of this role I have been taking phone calls from members of the public who are diagnosed with the degenerative disease of Multiple Sclerosis and are seeking further support in managing their disease. This placement has been eye-opening and allowed me to interact with a sector of the community that has a unique set of challenges while honing my empathetic listening ear and supportive advice skills.

Happily, completing this placement means that over two years of hard work will now result in me obtaining my Masters and becoming a qualified social worker. As many of you know, being a community Rabbi allows me to wear multiple hats and be there for our community at many pivotal moments such as births, marriages, deaths and everything in between. The complexity of my role as a Rabbi means that my new qualification as a social worker will now complement the many roles I undertake.

It is not without thanks first and foremost to my wonderful wife and family and to my ARK Centre family who have allowed and, from the outset, encouraged me to complete this degree with lots of support. I am confident that these further professional qualifications will only allow me to better to deal with the many day-to-day interactions I have with people from all walks of life and continue to serve you, my community, as best as I can as your Rabbi. I look forward to humbly using my new skills to provide support wherever I am needed and welcome you to contact me should you need anything.

In many ways, the role of Rabbi emphasises the importance of the power of speech and being careful with our language. While completing my placement, I saw the importance of using speech to comfort and reassure callers. The Torah portion this week, Parshat Tazria, addresses the consequences caused by speaking Lashon Harah (Evil Tongue) which encompasses slander, gossip and all types of destructive language. The Torah goes into detail about the affliction of “Tzoraat,” commonly mistranslated as leprosy, but representing a Divine skin affliction.

The ailment of Tzoraat, represented the gravity of engaging in evil speech. Not only did the ailment manifest of one’s skin, but it could also manifest on a person’s belongings and house and if one ignored it, it could spread to all three. The seriousness of this skin affliction could not be underestimated because Tzoraat represents the power of one’s speech in building relationships and building people up but also the potential of ruining a person’s personal and professional life through idle chatter.

While it might be impossible to never speak gossip, the ultimate aim should be to have an inherent awareness of how powerful our speech is and how we have to be careful to recognise how important and influential words can be. Our speech creates a model for how we want to be perceived and sets the tone for the conversation. The less we permit ourselves to engage in negative speech, the less likely we will frivolously use it to the detriment of ourselves and others.

Upon reflection, the past 70 days have been an incredible journey full of new learnings, ideas, challenges and of course many hours spent completing essays and assignments. In almost every interaction I had with clients I have been able to use my speech to comfort, assist and empower those who sought advice through my social work placement. In this very small but critical way I have been able to see the amazing power of speech on a micro level. How much more can we make a difference to those around us when we put just that little bit more emphasis on using our speech for positivity and kindness.

Wishing my community, the most wonderful Shabbat,

Rabbi Gabi